Sunday, March 7, 2010

Wife Rule #131: Why I Love Your Mother (to my children) -- Chapter Seven: The Family in Eden

I have a family here on earth.
They are so good to me.
I want to share my life with them through all eternity.
Families can be together forever
Through Heavenly Father’s plan.
I always want to be with my own family,
And the Lord has shown me how I can.

--Ruth M. Gardner, Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no. 300

After God created this beautiful world, Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden as the final step of preparing this world for human habitation. Their condition there was planned meticulously by our Heavenly Father; they were given all the necessary ingredients for agency to function, and thus for their growth. They were given laws, as we will discuss shortly; they were given the freedom to choose for themselves (see Moses 3:17); and there was in the plan a provision for a Savior for them, as well as a space for repentance, should they use their agency to transgress the law and "fall" from their state of innocence (see 2 Nephi 26:26).

Being so divinely designed to advance together, Adam and Eve serve as the ideal prototype, or pattern, of a celestial marriage. By "celestial marriage" I don't mean that they had a perfect marriage or family here on earth (remember Cain and Abel?). Rather, I mean that together they constituted a family fashioned in the likeness of our own Celestial Parents, and one destined for celestial heights. Like the song above says, their marriage here on earth was built in such a manner as to be eternally lasting--built to endure forever. In my simple mind, this celestial marriage pattern can be boiled down to only two principles, worthy of our emulation: (1) they started out right, (2) they kept the commandments of God, including sticking together.

Adam and Eve started their marriage in the right place, at the right time, and by the right authority. The marriage ceremony was performed by God himself, when they were placed together in the Garden of Eden and commanded to "multiply and replenish the earth" (Genesis 1:28). It was thus by God's word and through His authority that they were joined.

Beginning new lives together in this way has inestimable value. God's authority is the only authority that has power to reach beyond time and space into eternity. A statement that two people are married, as given by one who has authority from an earthly, political body, only extends as far and as long as that political authority is recognized. A marriage by one with power to bind on earth only extends only as long as both husband and wife are here, in the flesh, on earth.

In contrast, God's authority reaches as far into the future as His dominions do, into the distant brightness of an ever-expanding, glorious eternity. God's words and works have no end (see Moses 1:38, and a neither does a marriage ordained through His power, provided that all the necessary conditions are met for that marriage.

Again, in my simpleminded pattern, the necessary conditions that a husband and wife must keep, if they expect to enjoy the benefits of God's law of marriage, are simply to obey God's laws related to marriage. It just so happens that marriage takes the capstone position in the gospel structure, sitting at the pinnacle of the plan and resting on the foundation of all other principles and ordinances underneath it. Thus, God's laws related to marriage encompass all of God's other laws.

But what are these laws? Well, there's over two thousand pages of scripture related to expounding and illustrating them and the consequences of obeying or ignoring them. However, to keep things simple, let's just consider the first commandments in our scriptural record that were given to Adam and Eve while they were still innocent in Eden: (1) Have children (Genesis 1:28), (2) Don't eat the forbidden fruit if you don't want to die (Genesis 2:17), (3) Work, beginning with "dressing and keeping" the garden (Genesis 2:15), and encompassing the command to subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it (Genesis 1:28 again), and (4) Stay together (Genesis 2:24).

It is this fourth commandment, the one about staying together, that is of particular interest. It was becoming lax in this commandment that got Adam and Eve into trouble in the first place (see Genesis 3:1-6). Satan's attempts to deceive Eve may not have been effective if she and Adam had been together during her temptation. However, once Eve had partaken of the fruit and was going to be forced to leave Eden forever, Adam chose to stick by her side and also partook of the fruit.

When confronted by the Lord to explain himself, Adam's confessed, "The woman thou gavest me, and commandest that she should remain with me, she gave me of the fruit of the tree and I did eat" (Moses 4:18). This seems to me to be both an admission of failure to stay with Eve during her temptation, as well as rationale for his decision to also partake of the fruit. If he failed once to stay by her side in the garden, allowing Satan to come between them, then he would not repeat that mistake again. If they could not remain together in the garden, then they would still stick together through whatever the wide, untamed world had in store for them.

What a great example for every married couple today! What an example for your mother and me! If all couples would only follow that one principle, to simply stay together, through good and bad, through the ups and the downs, how much less influence Satan would have in our families. Someday, my children, you will marry. Stick with your spouse. Be like Adam and Eve: don't let anyone, or anything, come between you. "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mark 10:9).

President Gordon B. Hinckley, a modern prophet of God, gave this precious counsel: "Choose a companion you can always honor, you can always respect, one who will complement you in your own life, one to whom you can give your entire heart, your entire love, your entire allegiance, your entire loyalty. Determine that there will never be anything that will come between you, that will disrupt your marriage. Make it work. Resolve to make it work. There is far too much of divorce wherein hearts are broken and sometimes lives are destroyed. Be fiercely loyal one to another." (Gordon B. Hinckley, "Life’s Obligations," Ensign, Feb 1999, 2)

The other three of the first four commandments given to Adam and Eve serve to strengthen their commitment to obey the fourth, to "stay together." Consider the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:28). Few things will cement your familial bonds like choosing together to have children. Your mother and I know this from firsthand experience. The Psalmist spoke truth when he said, "Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.... Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them" (Pslams 127:3,5).

Despite occasionally feeling like our quiver is about to burst at the seams, your mother and I are eternally grateful for each of you. Each child given to us is a precious gift of unspeakable value, and you truly do make us rich--rich in laughter, rich in love, and rich in learning. You are helping us, perhaps more than any other influence, to gain the experience that will help us grow in the likeness of our Heavenly Parents. You give us opportunities to face choices and solve problems using our agency that I am quite sure we would never encounter without you (You dumped what in the piano?). Each one of you alone is more than reason enough for your mother and I to stay together. And we always will; we have promised God so.

The commandment to work is one of the most valuable God has given us. In fact, when Adam and Eve were driven from the garden, God informed them that hard work was going to be a part of their lives, "for their sakes:"

17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
(Genesis 3:17-19)

Hard work is a blessing--not necessarily a blessing we would all choose, but one our Father in Heaven would choose for us. A life where hard work is required for survival is a wonderful way to provide opportunities for us to exercise our agency and grow. As we struggle to prioritize occupational work, church and community service, friendship, family, needed rest and recreation, and the hundred other things that require our attention, we learn a lot about who we really are inside. We learn what is really important to us, and whom we really love and serve when things get tight--when we feel we are short on time, short on money, and short on energy. Without hard work, we would never know.

In addition to these benefits, there are few better ways for a husband and wife to draw closer together than to work together. I believe that explains a lot of why young couples who struggle in poverty together while working through school and getting established often look back on those days with fondness. There is something wholesome and unifying and binding about the process of working hard together.

The commandment to avoid the forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:17), while not literally applicable to anyone since Eden, is still a great reminder to avoid what has been forbidden by the Lord. These opposing choices are one of the necessary ingredients for the exercise of agency (see 2 Nephi 2:15-16). While the "forbidden fruit" may vary in time and place, the choice remains ours to make.

For example, your mother and I try very hard to keep "forbidden" or worldly influences out of our lives and out of our home. We strive to make our family life together a sanctuary from all that is unholy and impure, to live in a spiritual castle of sorts where the influence of Satan, though surrounding us in an eternal siege, cannot penetrate. It takes real work and constant vigilance to maintain such fortifications, but we have not been left without guidance about how to do it. Our daily rituals of personal and family prayer, and personal and family scripture reading, along with weekly church attendance and family home evenings, add more strength to our lives than any of us can truly measure. A key to avoiding the bad is to stay busy with the good.

Adam and Eve kept all three of the commandments I described above, as we read in Moses' account:

1 And it came to pass that after I, the Lord God, had driven them out, that Adam began to till the earth, and to have dominion over all the beasts of the field, and to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, as I the Lord had commanded him. And Eve, also, his wife, did labor with him.
2 And Adam knew his wife, and she bare unto him sons and daughters, and they began to multiply and to replenish the earth....
4 And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence.
5 And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.
(Moses 5:1-2,4-5)

It is in keeping these first commandments, as well as all the other commandments, that husband and wife grow together in unity to the point of never separating again, that they learn to become godly and thereby prepare to live the life--the eternal life--that God means for us to live. Adam and Eve, our first prototype of celestial family living, illustrated how exercising their agency to follow this pattern helped them through the Cains and Abels of their lives, eventually completing nearly a millennium of mortality together on earth before being called back home.

They started out right, married by God's authority. They lived right, abiding by God's commandments. God was with them in the beginning, and they stayed with Him to the end. But how do the rest of us, born into a much bigger, more complex world and time, learn of God? How can we tap into God's authority so that we too can begin our marriages by His word and power? How can we know which, among all the competing paths in our lives, is the one true path, marked by God's commandments? How can we achieve the success that Father Adam and Mother Eve did?

There is an answer to these questions, and in fact, it has remained the same since the days of Eden until today: the pattern of prophets.

Part seven of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue

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